Money in, money out in the South
Southern administration officials face flak over their free-spending ways - Credibility of Suan Dusit Poll director Sukhum to organise reconciliation forums under question - Chartthaipattana leader Banharn weighs his options for tourism minister after his brother falls ill
If it is not careful, the loosely controlled and profligate Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC) could expose itself to political interference over its budget for social projects.
Thawee: Christmas in the South
Not going unnoticed in certain government quarters is the scathing criticism heaped upon the centre's secretary-general Thawee Sodsong for what is being called a spending spree.
Pol Col Thawee has been snidely nicknamed ''San-ta Wee'' for spreading around cash to fund security improvement and community strengthening projects.
Critics say the SBPAC seems little inclined to reject or trim budget requests by local groups and organisations for peace-making projects in the deep South.
A local source was somewhat querulous about projects proposed by noted figures of the Pheu Thai Party who were formerly attached to the influential Wadah group.
The projects they had initiated and put to the centre for approval were given the go-ahead without rigorous scrutiny.
Leftover funds from the projects, the source said, could easily be secreted for spending on elections by political elements.
At least one former Wadah strongman and his daughter are eyeing a seat on Pheu Thai tickets in the next general elections in the far South.
The source said the SBPAC's free-wheeling budget allocations have also gained the agency and Pol Col Thawee free publicity and popularity.
Pol Col Thawee recently presided over a ceremony to install the first power pole in the remote Lapu village of tambon Patae in Yaha district of Yala on the border with Malaysia.
The village, with a population of 439, had never had electricity before even though the residents had constantly demanded that the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) bring power to their area.
Egat had baulked at the request on the ground that it was not possible to expand the grid to the village because it would involve cutting through forests and was not financially worth it.
However, Pol Col Thawee managed to push the project through and pledged 16 million baht toward the project. The remaining 9.8 million baht needed to complete the project was granted by Egat.
Pol Col Thawee told residents at the ceremony that electricity was a basic necessity. He admitted he found it a bit of a stretch to hear of any village in the country without electricity in this day and age.
He said the lights being installed in rural villages will help ease insurgent violence in the border provinces.
Pollster under fire over bias
Suan Dusit Poll director Sukhum Chaloeysap is facing a new challenge to his academic objectivity.
Amid criticism that recent Suan Dusit findings have been politically inclined, Mr Sukhum has been appointed by the government to plan and organise public forums on national reconciliation, a job which requires the organiser to remain neutral to the red and yellow shirts.
Sukhum: Critics circling
The forums, known as ''108 forums for reconciliation'', were proposed by a panel that monitored the work being done under proposals from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission _ set up by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government after the conflict between pro- and anti-Thaksin groups culminated in the red shirt riots in 2010.
The role of Mr Sukhum in organising the forums has drawn doubts from his critics and the public over whether forum proceedings will be unbiased. One criticism is that the latest findings of the Suan Dusit Poll have been viewed as allegedly having ''certain purposes'' or were ''being done under orders from the political field''.
Many Suan Dusit Poll opinion surveys are regarded as being carried out to please the government, especially Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The poll results, according to observers, can help build a good image for the Yingluck government or at least draw favourable public attention to it.
A Suan Dusit Poll question about the end of the world, which became the talk of the town last week, was especially controversial. The pollsters asked sample groups of Thais that if the earth collapsed, who would be the person they would most want to survive. It was heavily attacked, especially in the social media, for being one of ''the most idiotic surveys''.
The poll's finding exacerbated the level of criticism because that person, the most wanted survivor, was Ms Yingluck.
Though the result showed the popularity of the premier is still high, it raised questions from critics as to whether the survey was linked to politics.
With this controversy humming in the background, Mr Sukhum, who has become a recognised figure for his poll's findings on election topics, is facing a challenge to maintain fairness and neutrality in the reconciliation forums.
The government wants the forums, which will gather opinions from people of all sides around the country, to help the organisers to identify the causes of conflict and suggest solutions.
It is expected that more than 300 university scholars will be invited to become moderators in the forums. But it is not easy to find sufficient impartial academics.
This is a real challenge for Mr Sukhum in making the forums free from bias.
Also, he is under time constraints as the government has set the deadline for submitting the forum outcome by March.
Banharn dilemma over tourism post
Deputy Prime Minister and Tourism and Sports Minister Chumpol Silpa-archa's collapse from a heart problem on Dec 17 has shaken the Chartthaipattana Party, directed by his brother and de-facto leader Banharn.
Mr Chumpol was admitted to hospital just one month after the party's chief adviser Sanan Kachornprasart suffered emphysema and was taken to Siriraj Hospital for treatment.
Chumpol: Health lapse
As Mr Chumpol holds a ministerial position, politics-banned Banharn must be thinking seriously what should be the next plan.
Mr Banharn is a health-wary person. He gets regular medical check-ups.
He admits that his brother lives a different lifestyle and can be a bit careless about health issues. Five years ago, Mr Chumpol was hit with the same health problem.
Although Mr Banharn had recommended Mr Chumpol undergo heart bypass surgery, he did not do so, choosing instead to continue his own treatment until he recovered.
Mr Chumpol knew well that he was still ill, but rejected advice to see a doctor. And that led to his relapse.
He suffered from shock and then passed out before being transferred to Ramathibodi Hospital where he underwent a coronary balloon angioplasty, a non-surgical procedure to reduce obstructions in the arteries of the heart.
Recovery took a long time, indicating his condition could be worse than expected.
Mr Chumpol still needs close observation by doctors. It is believed a full recovery will take a long time.
The problem now is what to do with the tourism ministerial position, a key post during a time when Thailand badly needs revenue from the tourism industry.
The other connections in the Silpa-archa family are not ready for the job.
According to sources, Mr Banharn has no confidence in anyone to handle the post.
However, he still remembers the good times when working with former tourism minister Weerasak Kowsurat and is willing to bring him back into the job.
But despite those good times, there was some conflict between the two men over the administration of the post, and that could thwart any dream Mr Banharn has of finding a suitable replacement.
Certainly, Mr Banharn is already thinking seriously of a replacement. According to the sources, the ministry's current permanent secretary is on Mr Banharn's radar.
Although many party insiders have put themselves forward, Mr Banharn has ignored them. To him, a candidate must not only be smart and reliable, but a close ally.
Nevertheless, a replacement minister must be considered soon.